It’s said that you should never stop learning, and I’m always a big fan of that when it comes to the kids. I’ll often tell them that they can go to bed happy because ‘they’ve learnt something new today’. Whether that’s a new skill (putting pants on the right way round would be one), or some fantastic fact, like the distance from your wrist to your elbow is the same size as your foot….(somebody, somewhere is now trying this!).
I’ll shortly be 48, so perhaps the opportunity to learn doesn’t reveal itself too often, basically because I’m too knackered, but we’ve finally got around to organising some play dates for all three of them….and it’s been something of a learning experience. I should have been far more organised a lot earlier on, but there’s only so much I can juggle and with Ali being away with work, I try and make sure that we have at least one day for ourselves as a family on the weekends she is home. Easier said than done with the various activities and trying to fit in the wider family!
Playdates are an important part of the childrens’ social development, learning new skills such as welcoming a guest onto ‘home turf’ and having that responsibility for looking after another person’s happiness and wellbeing. It’s also a really good opportunity to take a break for yourself, although it may be better to stay off the wine….
What I hadn’t appreciated is the whole etiquette of organisation that goes around the event. Not something you can look up in Debrett’s and not something that seems to be written about an awful lot – certainly not from a Dad’s perspective.
It generally starts with a conversation on the afternoon school run along the lines of ‘can I have [insert name] round one day? (heart sinks at the thought of trying to navigate the family diary). ‘Of course’, I reply, ‘let me have a look at the calendar and then I’ll see when might work’ (secretly hoping that Child X will be out of favour by this time tomorrow, as is so often the case!). Once a date is found, it’s then up to the grown ups to get in touch with each other to set the date – may sound simple, but inevitably there are things going on in other peoples lives…how selfish!
Having agreed a date, you’re then into the logistics dilemma. Do we pick them up? Do they get dropped off? Should we return them if they’ve been dropped off in the first place (well obviously we SHOULD return them, preferably in as few pieces as possible), and how long should the adventure last?
Generally speaking, we’ve found a couple of hours on the first date works well, with a longer session for the more seasoned, professional playdater (i.e. those that don’t tear your house to pieces and shred the last of your sanity). I’d suggest steering clear of mealtime dates, unless you are VERY sure of your ground AND prepared for the inevitable ‘I don’t like….’ (and that’s from your own kids, who have spotted an opportunity to avoid a particularly healthy food group, when Child X doesn’t eat theirs…..). Their cunning knows no bounds, but you probably knew that anyway.
And so to the date. Now, whether you pick up Child X, or they are dropped off, the scenario is always the same – a Mexican stand-off. Doesn’t matter how ‘best’ they are as best friends, or how many times they’ve had play dates at each others houses, it’s ALWAYS the same. No matter how much you brief your child beforehand (‘say “hello”, take their coat and show them where the toilet is’), that initial inane grinning and absolute silence ALWAYS happens – if you’re really lucky, one of them may manage a small wave by the side of the waist. As frustrating as it is, and however much pre-match briefing you put into the date, it will always be thus, so as long as you’re prepared, just accept it and pretend you’re Kofi Annan.
Thankfully the awkward silence between all parties, parents and children alike, doesn’t last more than a couple of minutes and off they go. If you’re really lucky, you won’t see them again for the next two hours, but then nobody is that lucky, are they?
I’ve also found that a short ‘chat’ beforehand about what they are doing to do with Child X can help. I say ‘chat’, but it’s usually a one sided list of suggestions of what they might like to do for the duration of the playdate – ‘how about such and such a game?’ ‘No, that’s boring’, etc., etc. You can bet that at some point dressing up will be involved, so be prepared for face paints, feather boas and fairy wings – regardless of the sex! It’s useful to have a Plan B in the back pocket if noise levels get too stressful, there is an extended lull in jollity or (God forbid) a falling out. Baking is usually a good fallback position (there goes your quiet time), so I usually keep a couple of boxes of the ready to make muffin or cookie mixes as an emergency stash for just such an eventuality.
Inevitably, the playdate will end too soon for them, but, by that stage, not soon enough for you. Best to keep them wanting more!!! Don’t forget to check for lost property before departure – particularly socks and coats, which always seem to get left behind….although you can get reasonable prices for them on Ebay!
Thankfully playdates so far have been relatively low maintenance, but I’d love to hear of any hints and tips on how to
avoid make them as successful as possible!